Monday, May 23, 2011

In the Moselle Valley at Bernkastel-Kues; Birthplace of 15th Century German Philosopher Nikolaus Cusanus, his foundation and library

Castle ruins of  "Burg Landshut"
The youth hostel of Bernkastel-Kues sits on a mountain overlooking the community, whose name is hyphenated because Kues is the village on the left side of the river and Bernkastel on the right.  The building is a former manor house, about 100 years old.

Youth hostel of Bernkastel-Kues
In front of the building, only a five minute walk away, you see the impressive ruins of Burg Landshut, a 12th century castle. You can climb the tower or sit in the castle`s court where a beer garden  and restaurant service are availabe.  You can look far over the vinyards and follow the course of the  river with a ship passing occasionally.  You will also spot the bicycle trails on both sides of the Moselle.

Former towpath is now a lane for cyclists and walkers

Formerly they were towpaths, roads used for horses or other burden animals to tow ships or barges against the current of the river.  That was at a time when no engines had been invented for such transport.  Today these trails, mostly comfortably asphalted, contribute to an impressive network of cyclable lanes in the the Moselle region.

As we were standing on the ramparts of the castle, a tourist couple from Vietnam asked us in English to have their picture taken in front of  the valley. We started a short conversation. Now, if you were a German as I am, confronted with the task of pointing out some sights to a young couple of foreigners who were "doing Germany" in three days while spending their honeymoon on a trip around Europe, what would you say? Bernkastel-Kues in a nutshell?

Looking down into the valley and over the community of Kues you would probably do the same as I did:  let the beauty of this spectacular sight speak for itself.  However,  for the informed traveller or folding bike friend it is also necessary to take notice of two historic landmarks:  There is  the birth place of the famous 15th century theologist and philosopher Nikolaus Cusanus who died as  cardinal and bishop of  Brixen, South Tyrol.

Heraldic Slate at the birth house of Nikolaus Cusanus

There is also this scholar`s library with valuable manuscripts of the Middle Ages, and there is a charitable residence for old people next to a chapel, all built in the 15th century thanks to a foundation erected by Nicolaus Cusanus.    The charitable institution of the founder Cusanus has been in operation to this day.

Folding bike friends who start reading one of Cusanus` most important philosophical  book "De docta ignorantia" ("Of learned ignorance")  will notice that the verbs to fold in and to unfold are used to describe one of his central ideas, i.e., how man and his world or the universe are related to God.

I do not want to be ridiculous or make fun of  Europe`s most important philosopher of the late medieval period, a scholar of religiously motivated thinking that was both related to mysticism and to modern thought.  His thinking  is still today impressive because it fosters the idea of religious tolerance and international understanding. 

So, looking at the Brompton folding bike, we are of course far from comparing the opening and closing procedure of this little machine with the deep philosophy of the venerable man from Kues. The Latin words may not even allude to the verb "fold" so much in English as they do when translated into German.  Look for yourself:  Latin:  "Deus ergo est omnia complicans in hoc, quod omnia in eo.  Est omnia explicans in hoc quod ipse in eo."  The German translation by Paul Wilpert would run in English somewhat like this:  "God is the folding-in of everything because everything is in him; he is the folding-out of everything because he is in everything."
(I am referring to the bilingual edition of  Nicolai de Cusa, De docta ignorantia, Die belehrte Unwissenheit, Buch II, ed. by Paul Wilpert and Hans Gerhard Senger, second edition, Hamburg 1977, p. 25.)

Before we did a good part of the bicycle trail, which formerly was a towpath, we stopped  in front of  the birth house of Nikolaus Cusanus, a building which is now a nice museum dedicated to the life and works of this great man.

When we took the bike out of the car and unfolded it, the chain came off the front gear wheel, a misfortune which left us with greasy hands.  This shows that the Brompton is far from being a perfect folding bike.

The philosophy that has evolved around it, is very nice, though. Once in the folded state, the bike represents the engineering talent of its creator. In this appearance, it does not even resemble a bike.  That is why it may be mistaken as a folded cradle or any other utility of this kind if officials are told so when boarding a plane, train or bus. However, it has a all the potential of being a practical, reliable, comfortable, good looking and well designed bike before it is unfolded and put to use by commuters or fun bikers ("Lustradler" as one translation would be in German). Once on the road, the folding bike user attracts attention with his vehicle because he seems to be stepping outside the norm of the everyday cyclist around us.  And many of the typical users seem to appreciate a certain amount of understatement that may go with its appearance. He also likes to exchange technical information with other users, he likes the idea that his bikes is internationally recognised as a particular brand with some prestige - and  definitely with the image of an owner who is concerned of the ecological effects of our normal means of transportation.

For those of my readers who will ask at this point - exhausted - why they have read all this,  I will finish this post with a practical tip which we were given by another cyclist at the youth hostel:  There is a marvellous  bicycle lane of about 55 kilometers length from the city of  Daun to Wittlich and to Bernkastel Kues.  It has been built on the corridor of a former railroad line.  And the best of it, once in Bernkastel Kues, you can board a special bicycle bus that will take you back to Daun.  I am quite confident, dear reader, that you will manage to google the details. For some clues, go to my previous post.

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